Morton F. Plant, a gregarious philanthropist whose family had millions, savored the unusual beauty of the area. With generous funding, he revived Groton literally from the street up. He was credited with funding numerous projects including the construction of Groton Town Hall and road paving. But perhaps his greatest addition was the Griswold Hotel.
Two years after building his Branford Estate, Plant purchased the dilapidated Fort Griswold House on the eastern point of the Thames River. He demolished the 175-foot structure and in 1906 erected a dazzling two-story luxury hotel in just 6 months. A total of 400 rooms, The Griswold Hotel was 240 rooms larger than Ocean House in Watch Hill, making it the largest and most visited luxury hotel in the Northeast.
As described by a 1914 Griswold Hotel brochure, orchestras would grace the piazza in the mornings and the freshest of food was grown by Bradford Farms. The rooms, detailed in mahogany, were lit with electricity and provided luxurious long-distance telephone service. Dancing was offered nightly, and no expense was spared on service, food or decor.
Late Groton Historian Carol Kimball wrote, ”When I was growing up, the 400-room Griswold was the glamorous summer playground for the wealthy, whose yachts were anchored off-shore, especially during Boat Race week, when many celebrities stayed within those wooden walls.”
The Griswold was home to the Harvard -Yale Regatta every spring. According to Historian James Streeter, during the event, locals forraged the grounds in search of glasses, traditionally thrown out the widows by guests during the celebratory toast.
Wealthy guests such as Jacquiline Kennedy, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbuilts and presidents such William Howard Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt all graced the velveted and mirrored corridors during the hotel's operation.
“Morton Plant’s major parties were held at the hotel because his mansion (Branford Mansion) was not large enough for his guests, so he had parties at the Griswold.” said Streeter.
As all good thing come to an end, the hotel took a downturn after the stock market crashed in 1929. The property changed hands several times until Milton O. Slosberg purchased it in 1956, and attempted to resuscitate the failing business. Slosberg added a 3,600 ft. salt water pool, painted annually, modernized, refurnished and invested a million dollars in upgrades.
But large-scale luxury lodging eventually lost popularity, and the great Griswold Hotel served the last guest September 1967 before closing its opulent doors. Eventually razed in 1968, the contents of the hotel were auctioned off, and with each lot sold, evidence of an exuberant and decadent era made its way into the private sector, leaving just a handful of memories.